Ones to watch | The Ultimate Sports Cities of the future

The criteria that define a worldclass sports city are constantly shifting, as economic and social conditions change and the demands of governments, rights-holders and international federations evolve. Here our focus turns to the future, and the cities we expect to make their mark over the next two to four years, based on their coming event strategies and strong performances in the 2018 rankings.

Two of the destinations featured here can be found on this year’s shortlist of 30 though they are yet to trouble the top-end – while two can be expected to compete in future editions.

Mexico City debuted on the list in 2018 while Budapest, buoyed by its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, made a comeback after six years in the wilderness, having last featured in 2012. Lima and Riyadh, meanwhile, are preparing for big futures in different ways, and can both be expected to make major plays in event hosting over the coming years.

Budapest, Hungary

While Budapest’s ambitions to host the Olympic Games in 2024 were genuine, there was also a sense that its chances were vanishingly small compared with the might of Paris and Los Angeles.

Although ultimately defeated by public sentiment before IOC judges even landed in the city, the bid was constructed to ensure a legacy of its own, with several high-end sporting events being secured by the city as it sought to demonstrate its Olympic potential and show its desire to become a major sporting hub.

2017 brought world championships in judo and swimming; the coming years will see the Hungarian capital host the global showpieces for table tennis and wrestling as well as the European Volleyball Championships and fixtures in Uefa’s pan-continental Euro 2020.

The country’s recently re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is a known football fanatic and has already sunk significant sums of money into developing the game in Hungary, with further spending planned. Budapest’s investment into sport cannot be expected to draw to a close with the end of its Olympic bid – underlining its ambitions, the city will serve as the European Capital of Sport for 2019.

Lima, Peru


Lima missed out on the top 30 in this year’s Ultimate Sports City rankings, but the Peruvian capital’s emerging event strategy suggests it may not be far from making future lists.

Having warmed up with a series of South American championships – notably in athletics, badminton and gymnastics – and a bid for the 2015 Pan American Games, Lima will finally host the latter event in 2019. Set to be the biggest edition to date, the event is being seen by many as a dry-run for an eventual Olympics bid – particularly after the city welcomed the Olympic community at large in September of 2017 for the 131st IOC Session.

Iván Dibós, a Peruvian member of the IOC, described the awarding of the Pan Am Games as “round zero”, adding that the country “needs to fight for something bigger”. While that might be a distant possibility in an age where megacities dominate the Olympic landscape, the Peruvian Olympic Committee, which guides the event strategy for the country, will be hoping for a Budapest-style boost from any potential bid. Attempts to host world championship-level events can be expected over the next few years.

Mexico City, Mexico


Mexico City made its debut in the Ultimate Sports City top 30 this year and was narrowly pipped to the best newcomer award by Abu Dhabi. Its event strategy over the judging window – 2014-2022 – has been strong and, with the country’s joint bid for the 2026 Fifa World Cup alongside the United States and Canada a favourite against Morocco, its place in the rankings looks set to be cemented in the short-term.

While financial and administrative problems have dogged other Mexican cities – Guadalajara’s late pull-out from hosting the 2017 Fina World Championships a recent example – the capital has gone from strength to strength over the last decade.

Major events in a diverse range of sports including golf, archery, ice hockey and basketball, as well as a return to the Formula One calendar in 2015, have confirmed its reputation as one of the strongest all-rounder destinations in North America. Should the United 2026 bid be successful, Mexico City will become the first-ever three-time host of Fifa World Cup fixtures.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


While its neighbours in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar have spent the last decade and more building their profiles in the sporting world, lavishing billions of dollars on overseas investments and a successful Fifa World Cup bid, Saudi Arabia has been playing the long game.

The first phase of that game will be completed in 2022, when the country will open the doors of Qiddiya, an enormous new sports and entertainment hub 40km west of its capital, Riyadh. Described by Saudi officials as “two-and-a-half times the size of Disneyland” – measuring 334 sq. km – the complex will contain a range of sporting facilities, including indoor ski slopes, a multifunction arena, and a race track which is hotly tipped to host a Formula One race.

Qiddiya is a major milestone for the Vision 2030 initiative, designed to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil to drive its economy. Having witnessed first-hand the soft power generated by sport for its neighbours, Saudi Arabia looks set to make a major play in the event-hosting world, and Riyadh can be expected to make its debut on the Ultimate Sports City rankings in the near future.

This article is part of SportBusiness’ Ultimate Sports City report 2018. Browse the other sections of the report or download the PDF version here.


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